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Food As Medicine — Elder-Friendly Start-Ups

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Food As Medicine — Elder-Friendly Start-Ups
In food-obsessed Singapore, it’s safe to say that food sustains more than just the body – it nourishes the soul.
In its various forms – itself a result of the country’s melting pot of cultures and love for hawker food – it serves both as a source of gastronomic pleasure and a cultural focal point during important festivals and celebrations.
To lose access to food is to lose a major part of life’s pleasures. To some, this can feel like losing a part of yourself.
But it is a loss that many silvers face as a part of ageing, whether due to a restrictive diet targeted at keeping chronic illnesses at bay, or the side effects of other debilitating ailments like dementia or cancer.
Witnessing this loss for loved ones first-hand led two women to start food tech companies aimed at empowering the elderly to recapture their love for food, ageing virtuously with a greater degree of agency and comfort.
These are the personal stories that led to them, and the food products they’ve created for Singapore’s growing aged community.
GentleFoods sells ready-meals that are easy to swallow
Food As Medicine — Elder-Friendly Start-Ups - Dr Shen Yiru
Dr Shen Yiru
Improving food for people with swallowing difficulties – also known as dysphagia – was a personal mission for Dr Shen Yiru, 46, the founder of GentleFoods.

"I decided to start my company and create food for ageing people like my late grandmother. I wanted to make food that would be appetising, that would encourage people not just to regain their health, but be happy again."

Her approach was two-pronged. She first set out to create “rigorously reproducible batches”” of pureed food that could meet international dysphagia standards, which are divided into discrete food textures and thicknesses, corresponding to the level of difficulty people have swallowing.
These were sold as ready-made frozen meals, either delivered or bought off-the-shelf at GentleFoods’ retail space for caregivers to heat up. They are also available in some nursing homes and private hospitals.
Chicken rice, nasi lemak and ang ku kueh on the menu
Food As Medicine — Elder-Friendly Start-Ups - GentleFoods
An example she gives – the thickness of rice grains, and how easily pureed food flows through the space between a fork’s tines.
The second aspect of GentleFoods’ ‘food as medicine’ journey: Developing food that increases the dignity of pureed food for elderly customers.
To that end, the company shapes the puree into shapes that resemble the ingredient it’s made from – for example, mashed chicken, in the shape of a chicken drumstick.
They also base recipes on local favourites like chicken rice, nasi lemak, chee cheong fun and ang ku kueh.

"We hope that this can help families dine together with dignity."

W0W Noodles contains (almost) zero carbs
Food As Medicine — Elder-Friendly Start-Ups - Wow Noodle
Food As Medicine — Elder-Friendly Start-Ups - Wow Noodle
Another start-up looking to tackle the relationship between food and an ageing Singapore is Kosmode Health, a company from the NUS Food Science Technology Programme that’s looking to “enable and empower food manufacturers while repurposing their waste streams”, says co-founder and Kosmode’s business brain Florence Leong, 60.
One way the company does this is by extracting protein and fibre from spent barley grains (a by-product of beer and malt production), then upcycling it into a flour that can in turn be made into a classic Asian staple – noodles.
Every 100g of the start-up’s consumer-facing product, W0W Noodles, contains 32kcal, with 4g of protein, 6.6g of dietary fibre and just 0.8 grams of carbohydrates. These are incredibly low figures – a similar-sized serving of supermarket kway teow comes with 181kcal, 27g of carbs, 1g of protein and 0.8g of dietary fibre.
This addresses the Asian diabetic population by targeting a staple food that contributes to the growth of the disease. “As Asians, when we eat, our first port of call is always starch-based – rice, and noodles,” explains Florence.
“By taking away the starch from staple foods, we can help people control their blood sugar levels without sacrificing the choice of food. That’s why we go zero carb with the staple – so that they can have their lor mee, or curry sauce. They can end the meal with a chendol, or a seed of durian.
‘Food as medicine’ s a better alternative to drugs
A study conducted by the company with Temasek Polytechnic involving 15 subjects revealed that a serving of W0W Noodles induced an increase in blood sugar levels far below that of regular yellow noodles.
The study also observed a return to baseline after an hour, compared to yellow noodles where blood sugar levels remained elevated even after two hours.
Like Yiru, Florence was also inspired in part by personal circumstances.

“Making food into medicine is the best way, because you’re eating medicine without even realising it. I like to think of it this way – you can create the best diet or the best drug in the world, but if no one eats it, it has zero efficacy.”

While W0W Noodles is available online or off-the-shelf at the National University Hospital’s Health & U pharmacy, Florence tells SilverStreak that their main customer base will continue to be other businesses.

"Our focus is not selling W0W. W0W is a poster girl that helps attraction to the category. Our main business is a premix that we will sell to noodle manufacturers."

Extracting value from spent grain
After all, Florence sees the low-carb noodles’ value not just as a healthy food source for diabetics and an ageing population, but as a category that demands further exploration – particularly in Singapore, which generates over 75,000 tonnes of spent barley grains annually.
Most of that is produced by Swiss food and drink conglomerate Nestle, who supplies their spent barley grain to Kosmode Health.
“Our goal is to fully make use of nature by using things that are currently being thrown away. I get very angsty about this – Asia is the agricultural hub of the world. We produce a lot of crops and a lot of food. But there are a lot of people who are hungry and malnourished in Asia.

"The nutrient-rich waste stream is being thrown away or converted to animal feed. Why are we not reclaiming it for humans? If Singapore has this goal of increasing its self-reliance (by producing 30 percent of its food by 2030), if we’ve already done it with wastewater by turning it into NEWater, why don’t we incentivise food manufacturers to upvalue waste streams to feed human beings?"

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